After the Manatee School District’s budget imploded recently, concerned citizens insisted upon a full auditing to get a fresh start, Inexplicably, the Audit Committee of seven members failed to get the message. Board member Karen Carpenter was unsuccessful in her attempt to get the committee to schedule a full forensic audit and an efficiency audit. Instead, Board chair Harry Kinnan held fast in his desire for a “pin-point laser focus audit.” What he means apparently is that he wants to have as little inspected as possible and to put this matter to rest.
When our budget history is fully analyzed, it is easy to see how the MCSB got into budget trouble and why the only way out is to go backwards a number of years to a time when the budget was in order. Manatee won awards in the 2002 for budget efficiency, so it is reasonable to assume that our troubles started soon after our CFO left in 2004 and was replaced by Tim McGonegal.
Since our school budget is based upon fund accounting, money is shuffled between and among accounts. This method divides up the costs and puts it in different funds. The dangers of using this approach are described clearly in Patrick D. Mc Connell’s “Government of Deceit,” in which he clearly spells out how and why fund accounting is able to conceal the true costs of educating Manatee’s children. The why is so that informed citizens would “demand reform,” if they understood the hidden costs and waste of educating their children.
This fiscal sleight of hand, reminiscent of the old shell game, coupled with our habit of never fully closing out a budget year, but rather rolling one tainted fiscal year into the next, leaves us with one big, inaccurate budget period from say, 2006-11, rather than six, properly balanced, discrete budget years. A thorough audit would untangle this mess.
Is there someone or some group of conspirators sitting on a pile of school board money or stashing our money in Swiss accounts? Probably not, but only a full audit which gets to the bottom of things will dispel widespread doubts. What we are more likely to find is evidence of a culture of favors being exchanged by vendors and school board employees. This go-along to get-along philosophy is deeply entrenched.
It will be expensive to audit several years, but we will never have a budget which is transparent and credible unless we drill down to the bottom of our problems. The Audit Committee knows what is expected and needed. Will they deliver?